You can find an audio version of this post on the Balanced Ballerinas podcast which is available on Apple iTunes and Spotify.
It’s 3.40am and I can’t possibly go back to sleep knowing that you’ll be awake right now. You told me that it’s worse at night. Unable to sleep, not knowing if you’ll wake up the next day. I can’t stop imagining what that would be like, I want to come hold your hand…
I’d never visited someone in palliative care until this past week. I was planning on giving you some privacy and would have never come, but our every other day reminiscing and back massages seem to provide some relief. You’ve given me so much that this is the least I can do for you.
As I walk towards your room I’m trying to find the perfect thing to say as I enter. But what do you say to someone who has made such a huge impact on your life and now slips away with every passing day?
All I can muster, every time is… ‘Hello beautiful!’
I can just picture what you’d say if you knew I was awake worrying about you, ’Oh Georgia! You have to deal with all us crazy adult ballerinas in the morning. Go back to sleep! We need you rested…’
But that’s the thing, you won’t be at class in the morning. You haven’t been there for a few months now. It’s been so difficult to keep your secret. I told you today that you’re a pest for coming to every class for the past seven years because it means that not a single day goes by without someone asking about you!
We’ve known for a while now that things weren’t looking good. But as always, you didn’t want to worry anyone. But today you gave me the permission I needed to share with your friends at ballet where you really are, what’s really going on and that you don’t have much time left.
I remember when you were first diagnosed with cancer. You sent me an email because you couldn’t make it to your lesson and hoped you’d cancelled early enough that someone could take your spot in the sold out class.
Seriously, how could this email be any more of a testament to your character? You’re diagnosed with cancer and whilst you mentioned how devastatingly shocking the news was, you were still worried about others and our stupid ballet class.
But it’s not stupid is it? It brought us together.
I remember your first ballet lesson. It wasn’t actually with me (although I like to claim that it was). You showed up at the studio wanting some further information and the next day you were in the studio with one of my assistant teachers having a private lesson.
You’d never done a step of ballet in your life and I remember watching through the window how enthusiastic and patient you were. You have no idea how rare this attitude is. Enthusiasm and patience never usually go hand in hand. Enthusiastic students are usually in such a rush and you had the patience of a saint.
Which is ironic. Because you had the least amount of time out of everyone in class and deserved to be a little impatient.
But I guess when you started back then (almost seven years ago now!) we didn’t know you’d have such limited time in the studio. But my god, I’m glad for the amount of time you did have. Over the years you’ve always told me how much the studio has changed your life and I’ll continue to reply with the fact that you have changed MY life Cathy.
It’s funny, in all this time I’ve never got particularly close with clients. I would definitely call some my friends but no one that I’d invite to a private occasion. It’s not that I haven’t ever come across anyone I’d want to be friends with outside the studio – you and I both know there are some incredible humans in our community – it’s just that I’ve always liked to keep a professional manner and I think deep down I’m scared of being hurt…
I will be changed forever by you. Your ability to persist against my resistance to share anything personal pierced my usually tough client boundaries to become one of my closest friends. You might be leaving this world, but you promised to come through somehow… even mentioning that you’ll try come back as a young student in one of my classes, with those beautiful feet and legs of yours. When I see them I’ll know.
For years I watched you walk (ever so fashionably!) into the studio three to four times a week. Your obsession with leotards, matching skirts (and remember those awful brightly coloured ballet shoes you kept purchasing from China to match your outfits?) reminded me of every young dancer discovering that leotards come in many cuts and colours for the first time.
I remember your first trip to the Bloch store. Like a kid in a candy store you were sending me pictures of everything, asking me to help you choose what to buy. It was so fun because you had the naivety and spirit of a child but the credit card of an adult! Your fiscal and practical nature certainly didn’t extend to your dance wardrobe.
Now I have some pretty dedicated clients who attend multiple classes a week, but you were the original. Our private lessons turned into gossip sessions and before you know it we were the best of ballet friends. Every time you visited a dance store I’d receive pictures of your new purchases and every time I went to a workshop, or interviewed a podcast guest I’d send you photos and videos before sharing with everyone else on socials.
But whilst we shared an unwavering love of ballet, we also shared our lives.
You fell in love with my naughty puppy from the moment you laid eyes on him. You even bought him a bloody children’s tent because he’s afraid of thunder and you’d researched ways to calm dogs during a storm – apparently hiding in enclosed spaces work.
You also know when I wanted to crawl into an enclosed space and despite my reluctance (still!) to share details about my personal life or business you always manage to get it out of me. When navigating the highs and lows of operating a small business from such a young age, you watched and guided me through the process often saying, ‘Oh Georgia, you can’t keep everyone happy, please stop trying!’
And that’s all you ever wanted for me, was to be happy. When I was heartbroken you’d shake your head in disbelief at their stupidity and when I found the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a week didn’t go by without you asking about our future together; what kind of house we wanted to live in, holidays we wanted to go on, the number of children we wanted and how much you wanted me to have a little girl so you could buy her ballet clothes…
I’ll never forget our last coffee date where that naughty puppy of mine (or should I say yours because he obviously loved you more) sat so quietly and fiercely protective underneath your chair whilst you forced me to tell you every detail of my future wedding day – because you wouldn’t be there.
Damn you for pulling the cancer card!
After watching you hang on every word about the dress, flowers, cake and guest list (which you would have most certainly been on), you took my hand and told me that David (your husband) was the best thing that every happened to you. He was your rock, your best friend and the love of your life. You told me that Daniel was my David and that even though I’m a strong independent woman there’s nothing weak about holding on tight to a good hearted man.
You said all this with tears in your eyes, whilst sneaking bits of almond croissant to your little man under the chair. When I said that dogs shouldn’t eat ridiculously expensive baked goods you told me to shut up and let him have it…
This is what I love most about you. You are the epitome of grit and grace. In one breath you are the most polite, elegant and softly spoken woman I’ve ever met. And in the next breath you’d say, ‘What a crazy bitch!’ if a client treated me poorly.
Gosh you make me laugh. I’m going to miss you so much.
One of the most precious gifts you ever gave me was your unwavering belief in me and my future.
One time I showed you a picture of a private dance studio, with beautiful timber flooring and a floor to ceiling book case next to the barre. I explained that it existed in a 50 million dollar home in Spain and you replied, ‘You’ll have one of those one day! Maybe not the 50 million dollar home, but the custom home studio!’
Another time we were talking about our mutual love and obsession with Misty Copeland when you said, ‘You’ll get her on your podcast one day Georgia, I just know it!’ I told you that you were crazy and you simply replied with, ‘Just make sure when it happens you take me with you…’
Well Cathy, I won’t just be taking you to that interview one day. I’ll be taking you into every adult ballet class I ever teach for the rest of my life.
I’ll never forget your kindness towards new students, your generosity towards your friends and your ability to disarm even the most introverted of people – myself included. All qualities and skills that I hope to embody one day.
You were always telling me how special I am and when I head into the hospital to visit you for the last time tomorrow I’m going to make sure you know how special YOU are to not only me but everyone in our dance community. From little girls who you’d go up to at concert time and whisper encouraging words, to fellow adult ballerinas that over the years consider you one of their dearest friends… you taught us all so much.
The other day, I conservatively calculated how many hours we’ve probably spent in the studio together and it came to 1820 without including any additional workshops or retreats. It’s truly unbelievable as it only feels like yesterday that we began our adult ballet journey together.
Did you know that your last class was at the studio, with live piano, wearing your brand new demi-pointe shoes? You couldn’t stop smiling because you’d just discovered that you could buy satin flats to wear in class. I can’t believe you only got to dance in them once.
I’m heartbroken. An entire community is heartbroken. We all love you so much.
All I can say now is that shadows of your kindness will flicker across my studio walls forever. Thank you my beautiful friend.